> Blindboy Boatclub is best-known as a podcaster. In recent years he has also published The Gospel According to Blindboy (2017) and Boulevard Wren and other Stories (2019). Reviews of these seem exasperated by their flippancy, their lack of concern for systems of pre-established literary merit. The pieces have no balance, tact, or seriousness. They seem to be blowups of semi-coherent scribbles written on bathroom stalls. Those reviews, I think, miss the point of Blindoy’s strange output. In a podcast released in May, Blindboy declared that he was going to read a poem sent into him by a celebrity as he often does at the beginning of his show – this time by Henry Cavill.
DAFFODIL spent ten pence on the bedridden Jesuit’s chest his breasts are a register thrust cash in his money lungs float his throat on the stock market suck tuppence off his collarbone swipe your debit card through his tortured mind stick your debt up his hole, it’s what he wants his eyeballs are your creditor let him pay your mortgage stick his debt up your hole his hole is greedy for your debt
Blindboy might, if asked, state that the poem is absurd or absurdist. He might do so because there is a gap between Hollywood actors and Jesuits and finance. The poem, then, is the putative overcoming of a gap between banal Irish suburban life and glossy celebrity magazines, a gap that never was, a gap impossible to uphold. Leveraging this gap, Blindboy reads Cavill’s poem in a multifarious lilt. Perhaps this non-existent gap is why After reading it he says: ‘Excellent stuff there by Henry Cavill.’ It is, he asserts, deserving of merit and respect.
> The poem is thoroughly social in its imagined origin, as something sent to Blindboy by post or email from Cavill in an act of direct sharing. It is also social in its dashed-offishness, in its shamelessly paraliterary credentials. The cod-Wordsworthian title dares us to relate that over-taught Romantic poem to this poem which seems to have been primarily composed through free association, assonance, acousmatic improvisation. This is significant because the poem is all surface, pure kitsch. And yet it does describe a situation. Someone has bought a Jesuit’s chest, whose breasts are an old cash register. If you open the cash register, in the drawer you can find ‘his money lungs.’ From the idiom of ‘floating’ something on ‘the stock market,’ Blindboy echolalically extracts ‘throat’ and folds it back into the circuitry of the originating phrase, which wants for a noun. When you hear it, from the level of composition you can see that the tail is wagging the dog. The phrase ‘float his throat’ also recalls the phrase float your boat, whatever the Jesuit is into. It later seems that the Jesuit wants to pay ‘your’ mortgage. Then those mentions of ‘hole’ and the movement of sticking things ‘up’ a ‘hole,’ and their sexual connotations.1 It may seem strange that what is being inserted ‘up’ the ‘hole’ is ‘your debt,’ but if it can be packages, repackaged, sold or securitized, then why not?
> What intrigues me about this poem is that you can see the joins, where things come from and what they become together; it is overt, eminently reversible. I can imagine setting such a mixture of registers as some kind of writing exercise – OK, class, let's splice together the language of desire and the language of economics. I can imagine finding ‘DAFFODILS’ to be completely adequate, but not exceptional, response to this prompt. It might seem to have been done solely to fulfill that brief and not exceed it. And this is the point. We see what Blindboy did there, even as the poetry is safely and doubly bracketed by the name of Henry Cavill, and then the pseudonym Blindboy Boatclub. Seeing the joins, merely fulfilling a brief, these might be a mark of bad poetry. Wanting to distance yourself from the product might too. If what Samuel Solomon calls lyric pedagogy has honed in on those texts which demand focused and alert attention and label those good, thereby implying that to study those poems will lead to moral improvement, this shoddy craftsmanship is lyric pedagogy’s antithesis. It is inauthentic and slack and the message is its inauthenticity and slackness. It does not want to be close-read or taken seriously, it is covered in a certain kind of intellectual Teflon. It will never be set on the Leaving Cert or A-levels or the Tripos. It seems like a religious poem edited along Verity Spott’s guidelines on making a poem more Marxy: “Do not imagine that conviction, intelligence and wit are necessities. It is enough to synthesize their characteristics and replicate them.”
> And yet Blindboy insists that the poem is ‘excellent.’ On top of this, ‘DAFFODIL’ really courts a critical reading. It certainly does for me. I have offered analyses of other Irish poems about economics in Incomparable Poetry (2020), where I noted that concerns about religious institutions and considerations of finance are tied together by words like scandal, abuse, violence, and shame. Dave Lordan’s ‘Invitation to a Sacrifice,’ for example, mashes up desire, sexual abuse, religious authority, and finance-culture in an attempt to describe the 2007-8 financial crisis and its aftermath. Soon after my book launched, I heard Blindboy read ‘DAFFODIL,’ and it seemed written to order, pure façade. Cart before the horse. This poem seems so performatively Irish to me in content as well as delivery, and yet of course there isn’t really any authentic Irishness to ascribe to the poem, there is only the putative stage-Irishness of Blindboy’s accent and rhythmic tics, the curls and burrs he coils round his words.
> Blindboy states that Cavill is quarantining in Monaco, a city-state famous for having low business taxes. Like Ireland, its economic model is attracting multinationals. Cavill, Blindboy says after reading the above poem, has given up acting and is devoting all of his time to writing poetry about finance and religious orders like the Cistercians. The selection of celebrity actor comes off as flippant, although the surrounding story seems vaguely inspired by Robert Pattinson, who bested Cavill for a role in the franchise Twilight. On screen, Cavill is posh, eponymously English, and sturdily manly. There’s something mischievous about Blindboy ventriloquizing this actor. Even moreso because Cavill is an ambassador for The Royal Marines Charity and Blindboy is vocal about not wanting Army adverts to appear around his podcast, especially for the British Army. But in this poem he talks via a heroic figure who helps recruit for the British army. If there is critique of something like the financialization of everyday life expressed here, and I think there is, by distancing himself from his own critique Blindboy makes it unserious. But we live in a world where the serious and the borders between the serious and unserious are thoroughly colonized. This throwaway poetic ventriloquism performs a certain dissociation, a dissociation which for countless people is a tactical but never strategic necessity in their daily struggles to get by and get to sleep.
There may even be some early-modern slang at work here -- "to box the Jesuit" was to masturbate. See Jordy Rosenberg, Confessions of the Fox (London: Atlantic, 2018), p. 62.
Text: Robert Kiely
Image: Maria Sledmere